Planting Our Roots - Student Inquiry Labs

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SWBAT activate prior knowledge to develop a question regarding photosynthesis or plant growth and design a detailed experimental procedure to investigate the concept in a student inquiry lab.

Big Idea

Plants, variables, procedures and more! Students take control in this inquiry-based lesson to analyze how their study of photosynthesis relates to plant growth. Hold on to your growing light because it will be an exciting adventure!

Video Introduction: Student Inquiry to Investigate Photosynthesis

1 minutes

Hook - Composting Our Prior Knowledge

5 minutes

The easiest aspect of teaching photosynthesis to secondary students is that all students have prior knowledge and experiences with plants.  Some students are more involved and come from a family that gardens or farms and can share an abundance of insight in this area.  Other students may have only observed the trees that they drive past on the street and have never cared for a plant in their entire lives.  Whichever is the case, all students have seen trees and have received some sort of formalized instruction about plants in previous science classes at the elementary or middle school level.  

With this in mind, students will title their paper "Plant Brain Dump" and will be allotted two minutes to activate prior knowledge and write down everything they know about plants.  It is important to remind students that there is no required format or guidelines for grammar associated with this anticipatory activity.  

Students are encouraged to write freely about anything they know about plants: how they grow, what they look like, seeds, weather, farming, ect.

After two minutes, students will share in a popcorn style whole-class discussion.  The hidden benefit to this activity is that all students will be able to share some fact and feel validated for their contribution to the classs

Sample of Student Work #1 and #2:  The open-ended approach to this writing assignment helped to decrease students' stress about making sure they wrote down the correct information.  Students seemed to enjoy being able to write about prior experiences and connect our current study with their personal observations.  I found students were more willing to write when they did not feel the pressure of the teacher's assessment.  


Direct Instruction -Sowing Seeds of the Investigation

5 minutes

Students are reminded about the steps of the Scientific Method from a previous lesson and the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

  1. Ask questions and define problems
  2. Develop and use models
  3. Plan and carry out investigations
  4. Analyze and interpret data
  5. Use mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Construct explanations and design soultions

Students are notified that these six steps are crucial in the scientific process and are not only useful in our science class, but on a daily basis in any science career.  Each lab group is encouraged to keep the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices in mind as they develop their inquiry investigation.  

The teacher will show the students the "inspiration" counter that contains all of the teacher-prepared supplies that will support this inquiry lab.  

Available Supplies for this Investigation:

  • 4 types of seeds - grass, radish, was bean, and pumpkin
  • 3 types of soil - top soil, organic garden soil, and potting soil
  • Graduation cylinders to measure volume of water 
  • Rulers to measure soil depth and seed growth
  • Electronic balances to mass throughout the lab
  • Cardboard potting containers
  • Plastic cups used as potting containers
  • Grow-light shelf apparatus
  • Toothpicks and tape to use as identification flags

Images of Lab Supplies #1: This image shows that the students were given an option of 3 types of soils to inspire their lab.  Students could use all, a combination, or none of the soils that were provided.

Images of Lab Supplies #2: This image shows the variety of seeds students could select from.  Students were warned to review the germination period for each seed type.  Although students were warned, many students still picked pumpkin seeds that did not seem to grow during the experiment.  Next year, pumpkin seeds will not be an option!

As students prepare to develop their inquiry investigation, they are reminded that they will have 17 days to complete the lab.  Day #1 will be in the next less when the lab is prepared and Day #17 is when the final data will be collected and analyzed.  The length of the lab is flexible and can be adjusted to fit into a teacher's existing curriculum framework.  

Students will water, measure, and observe changes in their plants every other day.  All quantitative measurements and qualitative observations will be recorded on the Inquiry Lab Investigation Guide.

Guided Practice -Growing Our Ideas

40 minutes

Students will use their "Plant Brain Dump" notes from the beginning of the lesson and the Photosynthesis Lecture Notes from the prior lesson as inspiration to develop an inquiry-based investigation about plants and the process of photosynthesis.  Students will get into their collaborative lab groups of 3-4 students and follow the steps of the Scientific Method to create their experiment. 

Each student will receive their Inquiry Lab Investigation Guide to steer the lab creation process.  This worksheet will encourage students to be authentic to the scientific method and follow the prescribed steps.  The teacher is there to ensure lab safety precautions are followed and to answer questions pertaining to available lab supplies.  It is important that the students answer and resolve all of their own questions to maintain the student-inquiry experience.  

Each student lab group will progress through each of these topics in an effort to develop their student-designed experiment:

  1. Personal Observations/Prior Knowledge
  2. Additional Research About The Topic
  3. Create A Title
  4. State Your Leading Question (what are you trying to discover/answer?)
  5. Identify Variables And Controls (only test ONE variable at a time)
  6. Formulate The Group Hypothesis (it is acceptable if group members elect to create personal hypothesis statements to represent their opinions)
  7. Design The Experiment (include a step-by-step procedure that can easily be replicated by another group of scientists)
  8. List The Supplies
  9. Safety Precautions

Video Clip of Student Reflection #1:  This group was thinking outside of the box and wanted to compare the effect of salt water versus tap water in their inquiry investigation.  Most groups only thought to use tap water - way to go!

Video Clip of Student Reflection #2:  This group wanted to discover what type of soil is most effective in stimulating plant growth.  In the video clip, they describe their selected variable and the necessary lab supplies to set up their experiment.



Sample of Student Work: Lab Investigation Guide #1 - this student worked well in her collaborative lab group, but needed to go deeper in depth in the procedural details and data analysis.

Sample of Student Work: Lab Investigation Guide #2- this student captured the true essence of the project and worked with her lab partners to create a thought-provoking experiment and then worked to create a graph to represent their findings.

Sample of Student Work: Lab Investigation Guide #3: This student kept meticulous details of her group's plant "check-ups" by recording the data they collected.  She also created a corresponding graph that helped to demonstrate their scientific findings.

Close - Digging Deeper with Photosynthesis

5 minutes

Summative activity for the lesson: students will be asked to describe the process of photosynthesis in words.  Encourage the students to create their narrative from memory and not rely on lecture notes or the textbook.  After two minutes, students will share their narratives with their neighbor.  Student pairs will provide feedback to each other's work in an effort to ensure the descriptions are accurate and relevant to the class' study of photosynthesis.  As time permits, the teacher will ask the students to raise their hand if they feel their work their work captured the essence of photosynthesis.  Student volunteers will have the opportunity to read their narratives to the class as a final review.

Reinforcing activity for homework: students will use the textbook as inspiration to create an illustrated model of photosynthesis.  Students will use the detailed model to examine the narratives they drafted in class.  After careful examination, students are encouraged to revise their narratives to more accurately reflect the process of photosynthesis.  If the students are having a difficult time with matching the model to the narrative, they may use the Teacher-Developed Narrative Statements to connect the illustrated model with the correct detailed descriptions.  

The student-drawn model and accompanying narration will serve as a study guide for a future assessment. 

Sample of Two Student Narrations of Photosynthesis 

Samples of Student Diagram #1 - As you can see from this artifact, the student exceeded all expectations in their artistic representation of the process of photosynthesis.

Sample of Student Diagram #2 - It goes without saying that not all students in our Biology class will be great artists, but this diagram shows the range of effort and quality.  My suggestion is to remind your students to slow down and make sure their diagram is clear enough to help support their study of the materials.

Students will be provided the opportunity to put their ideas into action during the next lesson when their inquiry labs are implemented and the real "magic" of the inquiry process can be observed!